SURREY — If anyone can attest to the truth behind the old adage,“It’s difficult to soar with the eagles, when you’re scratching with the turkeys,” it’s Austin Batra.
These days, the 21-year-old former national wrestling champion is working hard to be a role model for South Asian youth as he tears up Kabaddi tournaments throughout the Lower Mainland and prepares for a bright future as a pro MMA fighter.
But a few years ago, it looked like Batra’s life was going nowhere.
In fact, “scratching with turkeys” almost derailed his athletic career before it even began.
ABOVE: Austin Batra wants to be the face of Kabaddi and inspire troubled youth in the South Asian community.
“I started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” he said from his Abbotsford home.
“When I was a teen, I wanted to be a cool kid so I started hanging out with the cool kids. Months go by and my attitude started to change, things were bad at home, I’m punching holes in the walls and stuff. It wasn’t a good time.
“But that’s when I met Kal.”
Recognizing his son’s downward spiral, Batra’s father introduced him to Kal Dosanjh, founder and chief executive officer of Kids Play Foundation, a Surrey-based youth organization that uses sports to keep kids away from drugs and gangs.
About Kids Play Foundation: Kids Play is a Surrey-based non-profit organization that organizes sports tournaments, conferences, and other projects to keep the youth away from the lifestyle of drugs, gangs and violence. To contact Kids Play, visitkidsplayfoundation.com.
“I told him I fell into the wrong crowd and he said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you,’” Batra said. “He made me learn how to harness my negative energy and fulfill my goals.”
Two years later, in 2013, Batra went on to win a national wrestling championship.
“It was always my vision to become a champion but things were going downhill,” Batra said. “But to set my goal and achieve it, it was the best feeling in the world.”
As proud as he is of that achievement, Batra is Quick to credit Dosanjh and Kids Play Foundation for helping him turn his life around and focus on his passion for wrestling.
“He didn’t give up on me,” Batra said. “I want to thank Kal for not only being a mentor in my life but like a big brother to me as well. He saw something in me and I love him to death.”
ABOVE: Kal Dosanjh is founder and CEO of Kids Play Foundation.
Dosanjh, a police detective who spent more than 15 years as a patrol officer, said he was fortunate to connect with Batra before the lure of gangs, drugs and money consumed him.
“We pulled him out at the right time,” said Dosanjh, who ran for Surrey city council in 2014. “This kid’s doing phenomenal now.”
Dosanjh said Kids Play success stories like Batra’s keeps him going.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” he said. “It is truly satisfying. You see a lot of these kids we connect with at Kids Play and we know we can make a difference – we can see it.
“We’re here for them if they ever need us. It feels good. It’s an absolutely awesome experience.”